By Jason Keidel
Just a week ago it said here that the best chance Conor McGregor had of beating Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their ballyhooed bout on Aug 26 was if Mayweather had, as every fighter has at some point, gotten athletically old.
And now, Mayweather either agrees with me or is being professionally coy for the sake of coin.
During a recent sit-down with Stephen A Smith, Mayweather mused over his upcoming fight with McGregor, and made some unusually candid and self-effacing assertions. Most notably, that he’s lost a step and that McGregor is not only the younger man, but also larger and stronger. So, says Mayweather, this is the first time his foe as the edge, at least on paper.
It has long been Mayweather’s M.O. to regard his foes with cheeky indifference – when he deigns to acknowledge them – the man across the ring barely a bookmark during his self-indulgent monologues. But what if Mayweather is being genuine? What if he really realizes that what is happening to him happened to all before him, from Joe Louis to Ray Robinson to Muhammad Ali?
It’s almost impossible to imagine this kind of persona makeover, especially in Mayweather. A tectonic shift from epic hubris to low-key humility is about as likely as Dikembe Mutombo winning the NBA’s three-point shooting contest.
Is this newfound modesty or a new sales pitch? Is Floyd Maywether Jr making concessions to nature or his he too naturally arrogant to fear Father Time?
Mother Nature has humbled many a man, woman, and athlete, and made modesty a necessity. But when you’re still 49-0 and driving a different Bugatti every day, it’s hard to correlate modesty with someone who proudly lives like King Farouk. He graduated from Pretty Boy Floyd to Money Mayweather at least a decade ago, and has felt no need to earn a higher degree, at least not in terms of moniker or monetary appetites.
Mayweather is difficult to digest, even for those of us who still kneel at boxing’s crumbling altar. But he’s too naturally gifted and aesthetically pleasing when he plies his trade in the ring. The problems begin when he removes the mouthpiece and opens his mouth.
There’s chatter about biblical debt due the IRS, how he needs this fight more to keep the lights on than to turn McGregor’s lights off. Tax bills and celebrities – especially athletes – are a common pair, like pop culture’s peanut butter and jelly. If you ever saw the delightful documentary, appropriately titled, “Broke,” you’d be astonished by how many millionaires are paupers by 35.
Mayweather is long past 35. But even at 40, he’s in sublime physical shape. Unlike many of his predecessors, like Ali, Mayweather never got soft around the middle. Roberto Duran often looked pregnant between bouts, then somehow sweated the cellulite into oblivion just in time to pummel his next opponent. Mayweather is a walking workout, 24/7 fit. For all his faults and foibles – and there are tons – he never disrespected his sport vis-a-vis his preparation or performance.
The latest drama sprouted from McGregor’s camp, when former boxing champ Paulie Malignaggi agreed to spar with the loquacious cage fighter. McGregor specifically targeted Malignaggi because he opined publicly that McGregor had no shot at defeating Mayweather, if he’d even land a glove on him. After a few rounds and cleverly placed pics on social media, showing Malignaggi on his back, the longtime boxer fled the camp, wholly disputing what looked like a knockdown.
McGregor says it was clean; Malginaggi said he was shoved to the canvas. Then an odd arbiter stepped in. Shaquille O’Neal tweeted a few moments of the sparring, which showed McGregor knocking Malignaggi all over the ring, peppering him with lead lefts and roundhouse rights. The disputed knockdown seems equal parts punch and push.
Was Malignaggi tanking for the inherent click bait it brings? Was he out of shape or out of his mind? Or is McGregor really a fine boxer who simply prefers mixed martial arts?
None of us really knows any of those answers. We do know that, other than being fine athletic specimens who are great at beating people up, Mayweather and McGregor are also showmen and wildly gifted salesmen, their tongues almost as sharp as their punches. There’s a reason this fight had more public than pugilistic appeal. One thing – perhaps the only thing – Mayweather and McGregor have in common is that just as many folks tune in to see them lose as to watch them win.
So for some folks the good news is that, on Aug 26, either Floyd Mayweather Jr or Conor McGregor is going to win the fight. For most folks, the best news is that one of them will lose.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.